Thoughts on race, class, and WTF is wrong with people

A new Wal-Mart Marketplace just opened up across the street from me. If you look at the Judgmental Map of Indianapolis, you can see that I live in an area called “Laid Back Black People”, which for the most part is pretty accurate.

So it’s no surprise that the majority of the people working in this store are black. The manager is black, the cashiers are black. Some of the store workers are white, but most are black.

They wear these ugly pastel green-ish colored shirts to signify their employment. On opening day, when I needed a bag of chips to go along with a sandwich, I walked in and immediately noticed one thing: they were all wearing large and extra large shirts. They were incredibly ill-fitting. It struck me as sloppy, unkempt, and tasteless.

“Don’t get worked up, Justin. There’s a culture, there’s a style, it’s just their thing. Like kids with those dorky Bieber style haircuts that make boys look like lesbians,” I said to myself.

I get that if you’re poor new clothing is not at the top of the list of expenditures. It may look old, dated, or not “new”. That’s fine — totally just doing what’s best for you. I don’t shop at Hollister either. But see, clothing has these little labels. They have sizes. And stores, even Goodwill, has lots of clothes in lots of sizes. So no matter what your race, I do not understand people who wear t-shirts that are two sizes too large.

If you were wearing a suit it’s the difference in saying to the world, “I have a career” and “I have a court date” with a bunch of wrinkled jeans and baggy shoulders. Maybe that’s “white culture”, but I think any rational look would point to that being “having gainful employment”. There are rules and we have to play by them. I don’t like wearing a suit, but if I wanted a job in a downtown tower making $90,000 a year, I’d get a damn suit that fit and made me look like I give a damn, even if I didn’t.

But there are a lot of things I can’t wrap my brain around. Things like why people smoke, drink in excess, or Lady Gaga.

If you’re under the age of 35 and you smoke, I can’t understand why. I will never understand why. Because it seems incredibly straightforward to me that you have received immense amounts of education and understanding about smoking and yet you still do it. As a result I will probably look down upon you in some way. I just do. I don’t think there should be any laws against smoking, you can do whatever you want, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have opinions.

It’s like if you have a tattoo of a spider on your face, it will probably impact my opinions about you in whether I do business with you, talk to you, hire you, etc. People with tattoos of spiders on their face do not get to be in the boardroom. Well, you may be cleaning the boardroom after everyone else has left, but you will not be running the room. Sure, there’s probably some hipster indie bullshit shop out there where you can prove me wrong, but the CEOs of America’s biggest companies do not have a spider on their face.

But there have been a few things that have been bugging me lately all in light of recent Ferguson, MO developments. They deal with race, class, and just not understanding people. I was curious whether black people commit murder at a higher rate than white people or other races. Turns out, they totally do:

The department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics report offers a snapshot of racial disparities among violent crime victims. Black people represented an estimated 13 percent of the U.S. population in 2005, the latest data available, but were the victims of 49 percent of all murders and 15 percent of rapes, assaults and other nonfatal violent crimes nationwide. Most of the black murder victims — 93 percent — were killed by other black people, the study found. About 85 percent of white victims were slain by other white people

So white people commit more murders because, obviously, there are more white people. But per capita, black communities clearly have a problem. And this is what white people just can’t understand. Those of us not committing murder just can’t wrap our brains around this.

It’s like a little kid who is about to touch a hot stove. “Don’t touch it, it’s hot,” you say but the kid does it anyway. “Don’t murder people, that’s not cool,” you say, but there people go. I don’t get it — no amount of poverty or discrimination makes me think that murder is ever the way to go.

I’m a gay man, so I’m aware of cultural discrimination. I just shut up about it. I don’t have to walk into a meeting and say, “Hey I’m Justin, gay, and here to help you with your website.” Doesn’t really work that way, and it doesn’t matter. Yes, I get that black people are visibly black, but a lot of gay men are clearly gay, so it’s not all lost.

It’s the label we’re all hung up on, partly because the government and everyone else is so fixated on “getting numbers” about literally everything. Point is I just don’t think you can “explain away” the violent crimes that are committed in the black community.

Black people totally get the short end of the stick on a lot of things. I get that economic opportunities are lower, pay is lower, stereotypes are rough to shake, the police aren’t really on your side, probably because it’s hard to get a good education and get a break. But you can’t tell me you had to commit murder today because you had to eat.

And when situations like Ferguson happen and we see looting and theft and battery and assaults, I hope to goodness it’s just bad reporting. That it’s a media bias covering a store not in a biased way, but because it’s happening, and the looting and rampaging is just part of the story that trumps the peaceful protests.

But there are some things that just don’t translate. So looting happens in Ferguson, but I think we can all agree that absolutely would not ever happen in Carmel in any circumstance except nuclear holocaust. “Oh, well, there’s a big income disparity.” Okay, so looting happens in Ferguson, but can anyone honestly say that would happen under similar circumstances in Salem, Indiana? In Shelbyville? Maybe?

It’s as if the logic is straight from middle school. “I’m mad at my teacher so I’m going to go break this window at the hardware store.”

It just seems very simple to me, and I think most of us, no matter where we grew up. Indianapolis’ crime problem (and any inner-city) has always puzzled me because compared to my upbringing, I’m just sorta flabbergasted. There are museums, libraries filled with literally everything, and things to do a bus ride away. $1.75 gets you from 30th street to downtown. In Salem I remember playing with sticks. There was no library for my taxing district, there was no transportation, and there were no people around to play with.

People in rural communities have just as much trouble with meth and drugs (my old neighbor holds the record for Indiana’s largest marijuana growing operation bust) and lack of parents and access to higher education as anyone in Ferguson, and to my knowledge there’s never been any looting in Salem.

I have no idea how to fix any of these problems. I almost believe you, me, or “the government” can’t fix them. It seems apparently entirely cultural — for the majority and the minority — but that could be part of the solution. Stop referring to people in groups and just call them “people”. No more “black”, “Mexican”, “white”, or “gay” labels. Just people.

The rest is on you as an individual. The police are just there to protect private property. And I imagine if there were a riot outside my house or even down the street from my house or business I’d want the police to exercise every imaginable bit of reasonable force to keep my stuff safe, because that’s what the government is there for.

We’ll have to see how the investigation shakes out and whether the police were inept or wrong, but it doesn’t excuse the actions of a lot of people, white and black.

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Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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